Archive for the Reviews Category

Review: Agnosy

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 14, 2019 by Magadh

Agnosy When Daylight Reveals the Torture Scream Records

Every few years the London crust band Agnosy drops another record. They seem to take a little longer between releases than some other bands, but it always seems like it’s worth the wait. When Daylight Reveals the Torture is no exception. As with their first two LPs (Past the Point of No Return and Traits of the Past), this new release is redolent with dark atmosphere. With each recording, Agnosy have managed increasingly complex song structures. They’re not the most melodic of crust bands. They don’t have the spiraling riffs of bands like Martyrdöd or Burning Bright, but they find their way to a happy medium between melody and hard-charging crust that works every time.

I like crust as a musical format, but I don’t find myself reviewing a lot of crust records, and it’s mostly because I don’t have a huge amount to say about them. It’s not hard to sound like Anti-Cimex, but that was then and this is now. So why is it that I find Agnosy so compelling? There are several reasons, but the most important is song structure. If you listen to In Extremis, Martyrdöd’s second record (and the one on which they really found their voice) what you hear is riffs that are longer and more complicated than those of Crude SS and their legion of imitators. This, by the way, is no slam on Crude SS, who were pioneers of crust in the same way as bands like (the aforementioned) Anti-Cimex, or Asocial, or Mob 47, or…well, you get the picture. Crust needed to develop stylistically and In Extremis was a step forward that moved the whole genre ahead.

Since then there have been a lot of very good crust records released, records that have picked up the gauntlet that Martyrdöd threw down. Some of you out there might be reading this and this that I’m getting the periodization wrong, forgetting bands like His Hero is Gone or From Ashes Rise or Tragedy. That’s a fair point, but I think that Martyrdöd’s riff structure is more complicated than any of those bands, much as they are all world-crushingly awesome. To my ears, Wretched of the Earth or Dark Circles are bands that have taken the idea of more complex riffs and song structures forward.

In any case, Agnosy have produced another absolutely raging disc, their best one yet by a ways, and that is really saying something. The guitar sound is crisp and clear, which is always a big question when you’re dealing with down-tuning. It tells you a lot that this disc was mastered at Audiosiege by Brad Boatright. Boatright has made himself into the pre-eminent figure is this line of work by making bands sound awesome without necessarily making them sound like From Ashes Rise. Not that it would necessarily be a bad thing if they did, but his products manage to be both dark and clear in ways that manage to sound original rather than just being copies of what his band sounds like.

When Daylight Reveals the Torture is pretty close to an ideal crust record. It isn’t too long, clocking in around half an hour or so. It leaves the listener wanting more, not less. In a related vein, the song arrangements are good, reasonably complex without losing focus. One of the real failings of a lot of crust music is the need to rehash the same ideas over and over. If you’re going to do really simple riffs, the songs need to be short enough that the people listening aren’t looking at their watches by the end. It’s one thing when you’re playing live and can bludgeon the audience with sound. On record there is a lot to be said for shorter is better. The relatively more worked out structure of Agnosy’s riffs keeps interest quite nicely. The guitars are thick and guttural, but the retain enough tone to make the music sound bright, in a downtuned sort of way. Politically engaged lyrics are a plus, and the singer sounds kind of demented while still making identifiable words. Stylistically they sound a bit like slightly catchier version of Myteri (at least to my ear), or Instinto, or maybe a bit like Warcollapse, although the drumming is a little less far out. Anyway, this release is absolute quality and really stands head and shoulders above what is a very crowded crusty field just at the moment.

Review: Sutekh Hexen

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2019 by Magadh

Sutekh Hexen, S/T (Sentient Ruin Laboratories)

What seems like a lifetime ago, I was flipping through the Bandcamp offerings when a came across a new release by a death metal outfit from Barcelona called Cruz. I was mostly curious about them because I have some contacts in the Barcelona hardcore scene, and so wondered what was happening on the metal side of the tracks. Culto Abismal was not rich with novelty. But it was some chunky, riff-driven death metal that was well produced and catchy as hell. It’s still one of my favorite discs to this day. I got it via the Oakland-based label Sentient Ruin Laboratories. As time went on, I investigated some of the other offerings from SRL’s catalog. I think the next thing I got was VRTRA‘s My Bones Hold A Stillness, a weird mix of doom and crust that kind of sounds like Deathspell Omega on ketamine. Then I hooked up The Creeping Unknown by Noose Rot, which is some of the filthiest death metal you’re ever going to hear. I could go on. Pretty much everything that I’ve heard from this label has been weirdly brilliant (or brilliantly weird). The ultimate conclusion here is this: Sentient Ruin releases some seriously fucked up shit.

Fast forward to the present day. Magadh is sitting in his office in the public library, once again flipping through Bandcamp’s offerings in the hopes of chasing the boredom the comes with doing a bunch of repetitive tasks. I’ve rocked a few of SRL’s more recent offerings, especially De Val by the Dutch black metal outfit Verwoed, a real masterpiece of discordant atmosphere, and I start to see a lot of positive buzz around the recently released cassette by Sutekh Hexen. I’m game, I think. I’ve heard my share of black ambiance. This might be the kind of thing that will put me on edge…in a good way. About forty-five minutes later I’m sitting in my chair, eyes open wide, thinking about the place in Beyond Good and Evil where Nietzsche wrote, “Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.” [“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”] The abyss seems to have looked back into me, and taken something, and I’m not entirely sure how to get it back.

The opening cut, “Descent,” sounds like the background noise as Charon ferries one across the river Styx: a weird buzzing cacophony in which the screams of the damned echo. This sets the stage for an odyssey that will last the better part of an hour which juxtaposes passages of echoey black metal with long stretches of modulated noise. Sutekh Hexen assaults the senses, most effectively I think because, as a listening, one is constantly trying to make some kind of sense of the aural composition with which one is confronted. But the attempt to turn this into something systematic and comprehensible must ultimately fail. The composers of this music simply will not allow the listener to find any kind of comfort or consistency. These sonic collages cannot really be parsed. They can only be experienced with greater or lesser degrees of psychic damage.

I’ve been listening to this record for a second time in the half hour or so that it’s taken me to compose this review. It’s really starting to freak me out. There are some parts that are just overwhelming. Other sections, like “Segue I: Ouroborus” sounds like what you’d hear while you were waiting for Pinhead to show up with some sort of giant, spinning blade to grind out the contents of your skull. I love this stuff, and simultaneously hate it because there is simply no way to get comfortable while listening to it. This is the lost soundtrack to the first Alien, redolent with horror, and using creeping menace in ways just as effective as the overwhelming walls of sound (which also appear from time to time).

I’ll probably get around to reviewing a number of Sentient Ruin’s other excellent recent releases, including Chasm by Suspiral, which is one of the most strange and depressing black metal releases I’ve heard in years. But for now, I think I need to sit alone in silence and try to recompose the fragments of consciousness that Sutekh Hexen have utterly fucking smashed.

Review: Nervosa

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , on May 3, 2019 by Magadh

Nervosa Downfall of Mankind (Napalm)

As a band, São Paulo’s Nervosa have a lot going for them. To begin with, and clearly most importantly in this context, they play absolutely ripping death metal. Also, they’ve got something to say which, sadly, is not the case with most bands in this genre. Sure, it’s funny to hear songs about zombies gobbling up people’s entrails. But it’s refreshing when you hear a band that deeper ideas than what they saw on last night’s splatter offering…and can back it up with flawless chops.

 

Nervosa are the whole package. Downfall of Mankind, released in June of last year, serves up 13 helpings of blistering Brazilian death metal that speaks truth and takes zero shit. As with a lot of Brazilian bands, Sepultura are an important reference point. On their previous records, Victim of Yourself (2014) and Agony (2016), that similarity was alloyed with a kind of filthiness. Listening to Agony puts one in mind of Beneath the Remains, but as if the cuts were being played by Black Breath around the time the recorded Sentenced to Life.

Downfall of Mankind still recalls Sepultura but asserts its own sound. The recording is crisp and clear, allowing guitarist Prika Amaral to drive the music forward with a mix of rapid back picking and triplets. Luana Demeto’s drumming is absolutely rock solid, using a mix of single and double bass techniques to keep the music at maximum warp without letting things degenerate into chaos. Fernanda Lira provides thundering basslines and vocals that absolutely hit the sweet spot between intensity and being able to hear what she’s saying.

 

The latter is important. As this story from Blabbermouth.net (and the accompanying interview clip) clearly illustrate, Nervosa are smart enough to recognize the fucked up politics of their homeland (and elsewhere) and articulate enough to put build that into their air without compromising either in any way. This is a hard mix to get right for even the most experienced bands and artists. Watching these young women at the top of their game, politically aware, unapologetically feminist, and fearless, is pretty amazing.

 

They’ve done a number of videos, which mostly involve them playing the songs, and are mostly pretty good. For my money, the best is this one for “Raise Your Fist.” Lira, grinning wickedly, opens with “This one goes for the activists! This one goes for the militants!” in a hyperaggressive growl the lets you know that she means fucking business. The video itself features live footage interspersed with clips of from well-known scene figures (you know who they are when you see them) and average people engaged in struggles for freedom, equality, and human dignity. The picture of the little kid in a t-shirt that says, “Strong, resilient, indigenous” is too awesome to be fully expressed in words.

 

Nervosa are currently on tour in Europe. I want to see them here, now. So come to North America, because we need you here too. Nervosa are propaganda of the deed of the highest order. They absolutely stick the boot into the deathmetal boys club, and that’s a good thing. This is the kind of thing that you want every girl to see, to feel her power, and to know that her strength and her truth can blast their way into the world.

 

P.S. For those interested in a deeper dive, here are a couple of videos that Napalm posted of the band talking about the songs on Downfall of Mankind.

Review: The Punisher

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2018 by Magadh

A chamber in a dark castle in the mountains of northern Latveria. Around a stone table, mid-level executives sit, nervously fingering silver goblets filled with virgin blood. Torches flame and splutter on the walls.

 

At length, a tall and shadowy figure rises at the head of the table. Above his head, inscribed in letters of fire, the word “Marvel” floats in the empty air.

 

“Thank you for coming, gentlemen,” he says in a voice that sounds like the lid of a coffin creaking open. “We have a problem. We are losing the fight to DC. Our talent is fleeing, our readership is declining. The days are growing dark!”

 

The bravest of the mid-level executives stands up. “Not so, my dark lord. We still have the MCU. Age of Ultron grossed more than a billion dollars even though it had 37 central characters and no discernable plot.”

 

“Be not deceived,” the dark figure intones. “Batman v Superman grossed nearly as much even though absolutely nobody wanted to see it. Zack Snyder has cornered the market on dark, soulless superhero noir. He even managed to drum up $800 million for Wonder Woman!” He speaks the last words as if they burn like eternal flame in his mouth.

 

“We could release a Black Widow movie. Lots of people want that. Or how about Rogue? I have writers among my minions who could produce a salable script inside of a week.”

 

“No no! Our fans do not want lady movies! I know it in my bones. I feel it in the air and in the earth. It is with men, and the killing of the occasional female, that our destiny lies.”

 

“Perhaps Stan Lee can help us,” pipes up a voice from the far end of the table.

 

“No! He must not be awakened! The sarcophagus must remain closed for another two cycles! We must solve these problems among ourselves.”

 

“Sir, I have it,” says the chief of the mid-level execs. “We can make a Punisher series for Netflix. It has everything: darkness, violence, man pain, all the things our viewers want.”

 

“Yes…yes! That could be just the thing,” the dark figure muses. “Everyone loved him the second season of Daredevil, even more than the swarms of ninjas. But it will need to be epic. Man pain of this magnitude cannot be communicated briefly.”

 

“The number of the episodes shall be 13, in conformity with your will,” opines the lead exec.

 

“But wait,” pipes up the voice from the end of the table once more. “Aren’t we committed to doing another series of Jessica Jones next?”

 

“Speak not to me of Jessica Jones and her lady problems,” thunders the dark figure. “They shall be swept away in a hail of man fire and a wave of man blood! So I have spoken, so let it be done!”

 

And with that, the dark scene fades away.

 

the-punisher-season-1This is very much how I imagined the origins of the Punisher stand-alone series when I first saw the trailers for it a couple of months ago. As a character, the Punisher is a product of the anti-crime hysteria that arose with the end of the postwar boom in the early 1970s. It should come as no surprise that the first of the Death Wish movies was released in the same year, or that Travis Bickle made his debut shortly afterward. The economic downturn in the leading economies of the industrialized world and the perceived decline in American power dealt severe shocks to the national psyche, and whatever bitterness was not directed at the Soviet Union, its proxies in Southeast Asia, or (after the oil shock of 1973) the Middle East, filtered down to the purported wave of criminality on American streets and in American neighborhoods.

 

Frank Castle, like Paul Kersey (played with homicidal intensity by Charles Bronson in five iterations of the Death Wish franchise from 1974 to 1994), had lost his family to the unrestrained greed and brutality of the criminal element. Unlike Paul Kersey, and this was the unique element that the Punisher added to the genre, Frank Castle was a former Marine Corps sniper who turned skills learned in the military toward the goal of exacting vengeance on the mafia (which was directly responsible for his family’s death) as well as on criminals in general.

 

There is an interesting generational difference between Frank Castle and Paul Kersey. The latter is a middle-aged architect, probably old enough to have served in Korea and only haltingly prepared to turn to homicidal violence as a means to address society’s problems. Castle, as did so many young men in the early 1970s, had cut his fighting teeth in Vietnam and returned to the United States fresh memories of mayhem and the skills to undertake it. Straight up vigilantism, in which the targets were to be killed rather than simply trussed up and handed over to the proper authorities, was a novelty for American comics. Although originally meant as a sort of secondary character, Castle was popular with readers. It will come as no surprise (to anyone who doesn’t know it already) that the Punisher came to real prominence as a character in a run of Daredevil done in the early 1980s by Frank Miller, he of dark inclinations and moderate neo-fascist politics.

 

In that series, and in several others right up to the present day, the Punisher has been presented as a sort of other side of the coin in terms of strategies for dealing with evildoers. This has most often been the case with Daredevil, as Matt Murdock’s (often somewhat paradoxical) commitment to the validity of the system of criminal justice, as well as broader moral codes precluding the taking of human lives when not immediately necessary, contrasts starkly with Frank Castle’s “when I put ‘em down they don’t get up” ethic.

 

There is little in the way of surprise that Marvel decided that the Punisher would be a good subject for a stand-alone series in its collaboration with Netflix. His appearance in the second season of Daredevil was the best thing that show had going for it, especially since the second half of the series was devoted to the slaying of hordes of (already dead) ninjas and the pursuit of a gigantic hole of (at that point) indeterminate significance. Just as an aside, the question that I had after watching Daredevil Season 2 was: suppose you’ve got 200 zombie ninjas to get from place to place in New York City. How in the hell do you do it? It’s not like you can just all get on the subway. Does The Hand own its own limo service? Now that I think about it I’m sure they do, but are you going to roll up the stretch Humvee with the dancing pole in it to get your ninjas from place to place? Maybe you would. My experience with zombie ninjas is relatively limited.

 

In any case, Frank Castle really did add something to Daredevil. My most comics-aware friend and I argued for days about the difference in approach between Frank Castle and Matt Murdock. Her view, and given the otherwise moderate nature of her character, was that Murdock was being hypocritical since he had no real way of being sure that the extremely rough treatment that he was dealing out to be guys was, in practice, not going to be lethal to them. In any case, she argued, Frank Castle is dealing with some very, very bad people, so it’s probably all for the best that he kills them. Also, and with this part of her argument I had rather more sympathy, Frank is altogether honest, whereas Murdock’s dishonesty with people (particularly Foggy Nelson and Karen Page) was likely to put them at even greater risk than simply telling them the truth.

 

Much as I love Daredevil, and people who know me will know that my interest in that particular character is just this side of obsession, I had to admit that she was right. Of course, I still think that there is a non-trivial difference between the possibility that one might kill or permanently disfigure one’s opponent and seeking to kill them as the first tactic out of the box. On the other hand, it really did no good not telling Foggy and Karen about his avocation, since they were in danger either way, and knowing the actual situation might have allowed them to make an informed choice about whether or not they were cool with that. One thing you’ve got to admit about Frank Castle, when he says something you can be pretty certain that it reflects the state of the world as he knows it.

 

[Before going further I should now point out that there are spoilerish things in what follows. If you intend to watch the series (and strongly suggest that you do) you might want to put off reading this until you’ve done so. Unless you don’t care. Then just plow ahead.]

 

The first five episodes of Punisher were pretty much exactly as I feared. They were slow, overwrought, and featured so many flashbacks to Frank’s dead family that I came to feel that I’d rather that he put me out of my misery than have to watch even one more. You might think that, given the spasm of catastrophic violence with which Frank blazed out of Daredevil Season 2, the list of names on his list of those-upon-whom-vengeance-must-be-taken might be relatively small. But you would be wrong. Much time and effort are expended in episodes 1 through 4 or so establishing that the conspiracy that led to the killing of (the vast majority of) the Castle family was rather more extensive the previously supposed.

 

Ripping their plot from the headlines (or at least of the headlines from a few years ago), it turns out that the whole thing related to a secret CIA running assassination program in Afghanistan. Indeed, one of the most excruciating episodes in the whole series explores a great depth the kind of program that anyone with a lick of sense assumes is going on there all the time. Frank’s foil, as he sets out on the project of ejecting those responsible for his family’s death from this mortal coil is a neurotic former intelligence analyst who, having discovered the operation, was forced to fake his own death and now spends half of his time plotting his revenge from a computer lined bunker and the other half voyeuristically checkout out his family on the spy cameras he installed in their home. I suspect that this was meant to demonstrate the intensity of his concern for his family but invariably came off as creepy and controlling instead.

 

Pursuing the case in parallel fashion is DHS operator Dinah Madani (played by Amber Rose Revah whose previous work include the character of Mary Magdalene in The Bible), who both my friend and I found rather irritating in the first few episodes. This has a lot to do with the fact that the writers have her engage in a romantic fling with another character (Billy Russo) who might as well have “Main Perpetrator” tattooed across his forehead. They seemed very much to be setting up the all too frequently seen “woman gets played” trope. This turns out not to be the case, or at least to the extent that it does, it sets up a massive turning of the tables which adds a very interesting dimension to the plot. In too many thrillers to count, the bad guys are the sort of infallible supermen, only brought to heel in the end by the countervailing superhuman efforts of the hero (usually male and bleeding profusely). But Madani’s turning of the tables on Russo, while not quite succeeding in the way, or to the degree that she intended, still shows that he is fallible and this makes the plot significantly more interesting, and more palatable.

 

Karen Page also makes a few turns in this series, and to very good effect. I must admit to being a bit skeptical of Deborah Ann Woll. Her extensive run in True Blood didn’t give one much to go on in terms of what might be expected of her as a dramatic actress. But she was quite good in both series of Daredevil, especially the second one in which her experience of having straight up plugged a guy with his own gun in Season 1 gives her a basis on which to relate to Frank Castle. My friend, who managed to get through the whole of the series a few days before I did, swore up and down that the relationship between Frank and Karen Page, which is not quite romantic but not simply friendly either, made a lot of sense. I told her I thought she was nuts but (as usual) she turned out to be right. Frank and Karen’s relationship works because he is always and unfailingly honest with her. Unlike Murdock, who simply couldn’t understand that Karen’s need for honesty trumped all the other stuff, Frank only speaks truth to her. She knows it and respects it. Also, unlike Matt, who wants to argue the ins and outs of the superhero code, Karen really just wants to ask Frank where it will all end, once he goes ahead and does what he says he’s going to do.

 

TheDefenders-s01e03-1As an aside, and unrelated to any other serious topic, I ship Messica (i.e. the relationship between Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones). I know with certainty that this will never happen. Canon calls for Jessica Jones to be with Luke Cage, and that’s fine, although I have a little trouble believing that the fact of Jessica’s having killed Luke’s wife wouldn’t present problems, Killgrave mind control or no. The writers of The Defenders did a really nice little vignette with Matt and Jessica that highlighted how well their personalities work together. They’re both damaged by things that happened to them in childhood, and both have a sort of challenging relationship to the truth. Jessica would probably be better for Matt because she doesn’t need to hear the full story about every last thing. Also, she’s pretty indestructible and very much able to take care of herself, so being with Matt wouldn’t engage his (very irritating) savior complex. Perhaps most importantly, Jessica is willing to talk to Matt in a way that he takes seriously and that would keep him in line. One of my very favorite scenes in any of these Marvel/Netflix productions is the one in which Matt Murdock tries stop Jessica Jones (who he’s only just met) from doing something dangerous to which she responds, “If you grab me like that again, I’ll punch you so hard, you’ll see.” It was a message that Matt needed to get, delivered in such a way that he got it.

 

Much as I started out to write an unstintingly negative review, I actually found Punisher at least reasonably enjoyable in the end. There is no magical Kunlun bullshit, and Finn Jones is nowhere in sight (although it would have been nice to see Frank bust a cap in him, but anyway…). There is also a refreshing absence of ninjas, and (unlike in the case of Daredevil) there isn’t any attempt to force the characters into relationships that don’t make sense. It does contain one of the most gratuitous and amateurish sex scenes I’ve ever witnessed (you’ll know it when you see it). It is graphically and catastrophically violent, but anyone spinning up Punisher in the first place should be prepared for some grisly images. To its credit, Punisher manages to integrate some story elements that, if they don’t quite disrupt the expected order of things, at least make it more bearable than thirteen unreflective hours of splattered brains, spurting veins, and man pain would have been. Having said that, I do also want to point out that there are a lot of things that I would have preferred to see. These include a Daredevil series without significant ninja intervention, a Jessica Jones series that focuses on her work as a P.I. and doesn’t involve Killgrave, and an Iron Fist series in which Danny Rand falls into a jet intake in the first five minutes and everyone moves on with their lives.

 

I recognize that you can’t always get what you want. And the fact of the matter is that the whole Marvel/Netflix thing is likely not long for this world, since Disney bought Marvel and is planning to offer its own streaming service in 2019 (or so rumor has it). But for the time that they have left together, and for anyone else planning on doing superhero miniseries, it is really worth thinking hard about whether whatever project you’ve got going can actually support the number of episodes you have planned. Punisher was ok, but all the stuff that went on in episodes 1-5 could have been much condensed without serious loss. Jessica Jones had a lot of dead space, Daredevil Season 1 had interminable scenes of bad guys sitting around talking about doing bad things, and Season 2 was going pretty good with the Matt/Frank interplay until it jumped the shark and boarded the express train for Ninja-ville. Defenders was, oddly enough, somewhat too short, although it seemed to drag on at the end due to a surfeit of (you guessed it) ninjas. Perhaps the larger lesson here how you do what you do is at least as important as what you’re doing to begin with.

 

John from the East Side

Review: Dödsrit

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on December 30, 2017 by Magadh

Dödsrit S/T Alerta Antifascista Records/Bloodsoaked Records

 

dodsrit1Moments of absolute perfection are rare. This is probably a good thing since they are indubitably subject to a sort of quantity theory. If we didn’t have things to gripe about, even in the context of things we like, the world would be a duller place. And if our hopes and desires were always being optimally satisfied, life would likewise be impoverished. Maybe the philosophers of dissatisfaction are correct when they say that the payoff that we get never rises to the intensity of the expectation. But there are moments when the joy of realization’s asymptotic approach to the ideal gives one something approximating the joy of real fulfillment.

 

My most recent brush with this region of experience was the first time I spun up Dödsrit’s self-titled mini-LP, available via Bandcamp from Germany’s Alerta Antifascista Records (and in Sweden by Bloodsoaked Records). This disc literally has it all. From the cover photo featuring hoary northern woods bathed in fog, to the skillful melding of crust and black metal styles contained within, Dödsrit is constantly demanding an answer to the question: How could this be done better? And, frankly, most of the time I am left concluding that it couldn’t.

 

The driving force behind this epic is former Totem Skin guitarist Christoffer Öster, already of worthy renown. Those who follow the crust/h.c. scene will know without needing to be told of the complex brilliance of that band. Over the course of two full albums and a number of other releases, Totem Skin bludgeoned listeners with an effective mix of dark styles: from crust, to black metal, to screamo, to passages that verged on the more esoteric realms of emo. Their collective talent for arrangement and composition left in its wake a collection of ripping h.c. cuts the quality of which holds up with the passage of time.

 

In Dödsrit, we have the quintessence of this stylistic mix. The songs are slimmed down (relatively), sacrificing complexity for epic power. Bombastic melodies spiral over cascading blast beats, before spilling vertiginously over broad expanses of battering double bass aggression. This release comprises only four songs, but they are longish, ranging from five to eleven minutes in duration. The question one always has to ask when h.c. and crust bands start crossing the 3 minute barrier with regularity is: Do these cuts really contain enough ideas to justify added length? I will say that, after repeated listening, Dödsrit always leaves me wanting more.

 

It is only a few years since blackened crust really started to be a thing. It’s not totally surprising that those on the darker end of the crust scene would want to try to integrate some of the power and atmosphere that lower fi black metal has often managed to achieve. But all too often this amounts to the excuse for the multiplication of blast beats without concomitant melodic or atmospheric overlays and it ends up just sounding lame. Dödsrit, on the other hand, are the real deal. The integration of crust and black metal elements is absolutely seamless, carrying the listening along on a flood tide of sonic aggression and dark ambiance.

 

Such is the perfection of this record that it’s a little difficult to know where Dödsrit could go from here. At least in my opinion, and you’re welcome to think what you want about what I have to say, they’ve set the bar incredibly high. But that’s a question for the future. For now, it is enough to ride along with them into battle among lonely graves and northern fogs.

–John from the East Side

Review of Destruction: Text I

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on September 21, 2017 by Magadh

Oliver Sheppard, Destruction: Text I (Dallas, TX: Ikonograph Press, 2017)

 

destructionIt takes guts to write and publish a book of poetry at this point in the history of the world. This has little to do with Adorno’s comment about the barbarism of writing poetry in the wake of Auschwitz (I think he was talking about lyric poetry and in any case he backed off it later). No, the real problem with pursuing the poetic form at the current moment is the fundamental absurdity of the modern. Historically, poetry has involved the creative use of language to write with greater depth (or with greater precision) than that available in the medium of prose. In the spectacular society in which we live the depths beneath the surface have evaporated and precision, more often than not, is simply a matter of giving the right name to the right specter.

 

Oliver Sheppard’s Destruction: Text I strives mightily against the bonds of the age. The pieces in this volume do not, unlike so many exemplars of modern poetry, exhaust their energies in parsing the minutiae of human internality. Sheppard’s writings are distinctly external in their focus, ranging widely from the mechanized battlefields of the Second World War’s Eastern Front to the event horizons of collapsing stars. This may strike one a thinking big in a way that strains the bonds of coherent conception, but Sheppard’s pieces are united in the consistency of a dark atmosphere that creates a space for the examination of human and trans- (or perhaps super-) human experience.

 

These pieces are, so far as I am aware, something of a change of mode for Sheppard. I will offer as a caveat that we know each other in that via-the-internet sort of way that is common for people whose subcultural attachments overlap. I can’t remember whether his work first came to my attention because he published at Souciant.com (which I am also a contributor) or whether I only found out about that later. But I do know a few verifiable facts. Oliver Sheppard is simply the most passionate fan Killing Joke that I have ever met. He also follows death rock with the same sort of obsessive passion that I have for European hardcore. Where I would be talking about Pandemonium’s Wir fahren gegen Dreck he can discourse at length about Fliehende Stürme’s An den Ufern.

 

Perhaps it is this virtuoso level familiarity with the obscure that first interested me in his work. In pieces for Cvlt Nation or (more occasionally) Bandcamp, Sheppard gives his readers access to a pool of knowledge that is as broad as it is deep. What seems to pull it all together is a dark, although not to say morbid, aesthetic. Given the chance, Sheppard will lead you down dark and unfamiliar paths, to moments of weird beauty not blighted by the death fixation of a lot of the figures one meets along these ways. The pieces collected in Destruction: Text I exemplify this well.

 

Reading Sheppard’s poetry is a little like listening to a conversation between Nietzsche and William Blake during a showing of Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron. Using a wide range of forms and cultural references, Sheppard illustrates the human condition in ways that take as much account of its absence as its presence. Thus we find early in a cycle of Second World War-themed pieces, the following:

 

Severe grey angles

Turretless malevolence

Squat steel gunned bulwark

 

It takes a certain kind of audacity to compose a cycle of haikus about war on the Eastern Front, but it is precisely this breadth of conception that lifts this collection above the mean. Sheppard seems fascinated with the human, but also with the superhuman, with the action of entities at the far ends of space or, as in his references to Persephone, descending into the underworld. In a piece entitled “Achromatic #1” Sheppard writes,

 

A hyperdimensional SPHERE of battleship gray

Lays some distance southwestward of its

RECTANGULAR and TRAPEZOIDAL cousins.

 

The terms and mode of expression are stark, recalling Pound’s quotations from the letters of the vortecist sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska before the latter’s death in battle in 1915. Indeed, Sheppard’s writing is redolent of the desperate modernism of the interwar period, inflected through the lens of late 20th underground culture. His mix of longer and shorter pieces and quotations from other authors (both in epigrams and longer elements) gives the feel of Hannah Höch’s collages, but with a later 20th century atmosphere in which playfulness has been replaced by an ineluctable consciousness of the gigantic and of the finitude of things.

 

There are moments at which it appears that the fabric of reality is coming apart at the seams, held together only tenuously by the images that mediate human social relations. Sheppard’s darkly beautiful poetry investigates the dark interstices of this system of images, looking both below and beyond to stark and often threatening realities. Often the human is absent, but it is reconstituted by reflected into this emptiness, leaving the afterimage of an unsettling universe. If there is a barbaric dimension to this writing it is a barbarism that, in a certain sense, works to recover the human.

Review: Power Trip

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on April 13, 2017 by Magadh

Power Trip, Nightmare Logic, Southern Lord

power trip2There are a number of things that differentiate this disc from Power Trip’s previous outing (2013’s Manifest Decimation), but the one that you’re really going to notice if you’ve heard the earlier release is the production. Manifest Decimation was a good record in a lot of respects, an example of the mid-80s style thrashmetal that occasionally lifts its head above the sea of black metal and grindcore. It has some pretty good songwriting and a decent degree of aggression. The main problem was that the recording seemed so awash in something (reverb probably) that it made the songs hard to discern.

I’ve got no problem with raw recording values in metal and hardcore. Sometimes, given the right overall tone, it can add an element of atmosphere (I won’t tax you by reciting where I think this is the case but if you page back some of my reviews you will find ample evidence). But in the case of Manifest Decimation, it just made it difficult to follow the chord changes without really adding the needed atmospheric dimension.

I am happy to report that this problem has been sorted in their new disc. Nightmare Logic is crisply recorded and features a wealth of punch, intense thrash metal cuts. Those who heard their split with Integrity from last year will have seen the moves in this direction, but the release of Nightmare Logic shows that they can put it together for a whole album’s worth of material, which is worthy of note. And let’s be clear: this album absolutely rips. They don’t have quite the tonality of a band like Havok, but they are none the worse for being a bit nastier.

power trip1As you might expect given the four year gap between their full releases, there are other improvements to be noted. Power Trip have made notable advances in terms of songwriting and arranging. Their sound is reminiscent (at least to my ear) the thrashmetal bands that labels like Combat seemed to release with such frequency back in 1980s, particularly Dark Angel, with whom they share more than a passing similarity. That said, their songs are more complex and intensively developed than Dark Angel were in their heyday.

That said, their songs are more complex and intensively developed than Dark Angel were in their heyday. Power Trip’s songs are full of little back picked elements that add power in ways that are hard to quantify or to describe in the abstract. I found myself thinking of the picking style of Artillery’s first couple of records. The drums are clearer as well, and I really loved the snare sound, thick and thudding, but with enough tone to cut through and be heard.

Nightmare Logic is one of the best exemplars of the thrashmetal genre to be released in at least the last five years. It’s got a lot of variety and changes of speed, and the musicianship is about as close to flawless you’re ever going to hear. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting a great deal to begin with, these guys have produced some really hard rocking stuff that’s going to be infesting my stereo (and tormenting my neighbors) for a long time to come.